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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                      251
Alexei did not bargain. He took the five hundred-ruble
bills and rushed out of this kingdom of old, stinking junk
into the fresh air. At the nearest market he bought some
meat, back fat, a loaf of bread, some potatoes and onions,
and even did not forget to buy a few sticks of parsley.
Thus loaded, he made his way home, as he now called it,
chewing a piece of back fat on the way.
"I've decided to take my ration and to do my own cook-
ing again. The stuff they serve in the messroom is awful T
he lied to the old woman, piling his purchases on the kit-
chen table.
That evening a splendid dinner awaited Anyuta: potato
soup cooked with meat and with bits of parsley floating
on its amber surface, fried meat with onions, and even
cranberry jelly, which the old woman had made with
starch obtained from the potato peelings. The girl came
home pale and weary. She forced herself to wash and
change. Hurriedly eating the first course and then the
second, she stretched out on the old, magic armchair,
which seemed to embrace one like an old friend in its
kind plush arms and whisper sweet dreams in one's ear,
and there she dozed off without waiting for the master-
fully made jelly, which was cooling in a can under the
running tap.
When, after a short nap, she opened her eyes, the grey
shadows of dusk already filled the small and now tidy
room so crowded with cosy old furniture. At the dining-
table, under the old lamp-shade sat Alexei with his head
between his hands, pressing it so tightly that it seemed
as though he wanted to crush it. She could not see his
face, but from the way he sat it was evident that he was
in the depth of despair, and pity for this strong and stub-
born man welled up from her heart. She got up, softly
stepped towards him, took his big head in her hands and
stroked it, running her fingers through his stiff hair. He
caught her hand, kissed the palm, jumped up, cheerful
and smiling, and exclaimed:
"What about the cranberry jelly? You are a nice one!
Here I was doing my best, keeping it under the tap
to get the proper temperature, and you go and fall
asleep! Isn't that enough to throw any cook into the